Page Two articles are from our reader community.

Since we are advocating for a new mixed mode tunnel through Downtown, why not take the extra step of incorporating heavy rail? The WSTT is our chance to relocate the Sounder and Amtrak stops into the actual heart of the city. Imagine seamless transfers between different modes of transportation! Relocating the Amtrak and Sounder station to Westlake Center would be a game changer for regional mobility and intermodal transfers.

For inspiration of what could be, the Cascadia Project envisioned a similar midtown multimodal station.

http://www.discovery.org/cascadia/centralPugetSound/midTownHub-JCT-Web.jpg

The poor intermodal connectivity has long plagued the full usefulness of the entire transit network. A rider from Mukilteo traveling to SLU could either take the Sounder to SODO, back track on Link, transfer once again onto the SLU Streetcar or drive directly. The rider could also take a congested bus from SODO to SLU on the streets. Which option do you think our rider would choose? Most likely they would drive. But if the WSTT included a Sounder stop at Westlake Center, our rider could have a much more reasonable commute via public transit.

Cities around the world recognize intermodal stations to be essential. Stockholm is currently relocating its commuter train station (Stockholm City Station) underneath their metro central station (T-Centralen). Closer to home, San Francisco is also currently constructing their multimodal Transbay Transit Center. Why can’t Seattle finally take intermodal connections seriously? Do we Seattleites have to keep pretending we enjoy this gritty masochist mentality that “I can walk the 5 blocks to transfer”?

Additionally, for safety concerns and system resiliency, would it not be prudent to separate the passenger trains from the freight trains within an aging, confined tunnel underneath Downtown? With the Mayor’s recent announcement that Oil tankers will be left to burn in the event of an accident, building a grander WSTT seems all the more imperative.

22 Replies to “A Grander WSTT”

  1. Putting Sounder into a tunnel would require finding either a dual mode locomotive or electrifying (with BNSF’s permission) the entire Sounder route. Neither is impossible, but neither is a trivial challenge. There also is the problem of the length of a Sounder train. A full 8 car Sounder train of bi-level coaches is quite long, so the station at Westlake would need to be long enough to accommodate that train. And, the bi-level coaches used on Sounder trains are much higher than Link trains, so the new tunnel bore would have to be quite a bit larger than the existing tunnel.

  2. The Cascadia idea is had many attractions, except obviously for the diesel exhaust of all those freight trains. But now it’s out of the question because of the Bomb Trains. IF there is a fire in the BNSF tunnel that the city will let “burn itself out”, one certainly wants no connections of any sort between that tunnel and any bus and/or light rail tunnel.

    The implication is that you want to run Sounder Trains through the proposed WSTT. For all the reasons Glenn noted and the relatively terrible emergency braking heavy rail trains can manage, not just “No”, but “Hell, No!”

    1. Oh, and don’t forget the gradients. Getting up, up, up to the west portal of the WSTT would require quite an elevated structure.

    2. Clearly you’ve never heard of the occupation, Engineer. They solve the problems you whine about.

      The point of this article was an exploratory piece on a concept. Nothing technical was presented; nothing technical to tear apart. The point I’m trying to hammer home is that if people want to spend billions on a new tunnel, why not take the extra step to make it a useful tunnel. This would be Seattle’s BEST chance at relocating the Amtrak/Sounder station into the heart of the city.

      Do you not value intermodal connections?

      1. Sure I do. But I would never support blended service in a tunnel with buses and heavy rail trains — and it’s not even “heavy rail” as in “subway” which can stop relatively quickly. No “heavy rail” as in lumbering, heavy FRA telescoping-resistant bi-level commuter coaches. It’s a catastrophe waiting to happen.

        What are you going to do at the stations at which the Sounder Trains don’t stop? You certainly can’t have them configured like the existing ones in the DSTT in which the buses stop in the driving lane. Basically what you’d have to do is hold buses from entering the tunnel for a couple of minutes before the train entered the portal in the half of the tunnel “toward” the portal the train entered. That would allow them to advance past Westlake before the train overtakes them.

        Then of course the train would have to sit at Westlake until THEY cleared ID so that the the train wouldn’t run them down before its next stop. You’d destroy the productivity of all the bus lines for the small minority of users riding Sounder.

        That’s because you can’t have the commuter train stopping for the buses.

        I suppose you could make the stations other than the ones at which the trains also stop five lanes wide so that buses could take refuge in them from the train. It would be a “dispatching” nightmare though. Essentially I’d think that buses in the tunnel between the portal and Westlake would have to freeze in place whenever a train entered the tunnel headed in their direction until it passed them. Then, because they can stop much faster than the train can, they could resume forward motion behind it.

        In actuality, I’d think that the FRA — in the very unlikely event that they approved it at all — would demand that they have radio controlled “kill switches” to ensure that they don’t pull out into the driving lane in front of a train. Because it can’t stop for them.

        It’s unfortunate that the BNSF tracks between Seattle and Everett are along the edge of the populated region, making exactly 50% of the walkshed for transit using it a very cold swimming pool. And then there are about ten stories up to the level of the north part of downtown. But that’s what we have, guaranteeing that Sounder North will never be very useful.

        If Link goes to Ballard via Interbay it would probably make sense to add a stop for Sounder North alongside the Link Station for the neighborhood. That would allow North Link passengers to transfer if they’re headed for the north end of downtown instead of doubling back from King Street which is not a quick transfer at all.

        The same would be true for an “east-west” line across Uptown, SLU, Capitol Hill, First Hill and the west edge of the CD. A station for Sounder could be at the terminus of the subway line.

        But no commuter trains mixed with the buses in the WSTT. It will never fly. Or even roll.

      2. Perhaps I should have clarified my thinking a bit more. I was imagining replicating Stockholm’s and San Francisco’s plans for separate tunnels under one encompassing project, in this case the WSTT. Similar to how the DSTT is really two twinned bored tunnels between station boxes. I agree same tracks for heavy rail and bus would never roll (nice pun). But two larger bored tunnels that could accommodate two tracks each. One tunnel for both directions of Link and buses, the other tunnel for both directions of rail. Or perhaps the tunnels could be multilevel stacked with rail on the lower level and Link/bus on the upper level.

        I know this will be more extensive and pricey, but if we are going through the trouble of digging now, it would be much easier to accomplish this grander plan now as opposed to an addition later.

      3. OK, with that clarification I can certainly see the potential value and that it doesn’t have safety issues.

        I doubt you can include Amtrak, though, unless you fan into at least three tracks at Westlake. Amtrak trains have a much longer dwell time than do commuter trains. People have to wrestle baggage — heck, the railroad has to wrestle baggage — and that take time to board and de-board. You will definitely need dual-mode locomotives, and Amtrak won’t be interested.

        Besides, in truth it’s only one mile from Westlake to Union Station. No train station is right by every part of town, but they get used. Look at how far Union Station in Washington DC is from all the hotels and office buildings. But it’s busy almost 24 hours per day.

      4. Oh, and on the new “Transbay Terminal” (which won’t provide or connect with any “trans-bay” transit, just the HSR and Caltrain down the Peninsula), it’s a LOOOOOOOOOOONG block from Embarcadero. Is it better than Fourth and Townsend? Yes; way, unless you’re heading to Mission Bay.

        But it actually will interface with Muni less directly than now.

      5. I don’t think BNSF would ever sign up for this idea unless they blow up an oil train inside their tunnel under Seattle and need a new route through Seattle. Sharing space in a public ROW just isn’t the way BNSF operates. The illustration shown in the Cascadia link wouldn’t work at all. Ignoring the fact that everyone in the tunnel would be asphyxiated by diesel exhaust, I also have to wonder how noise and vibration issues would work in the tunnel drawn by Cascadia. A 110 car coal train creates a tremendous amount of ground vibration–even if it’s only moving at 10 mph. How would the tunnel structure support all that shaking over 100 years? Freight trains also tend to be very loud, particularly on non-tangent track. How would all that noise be muffled. Building a freight tunnel deep under Seattle seems like an interesting idea and the pictures look nice, but I think the engineering requirements for ventilation, safety, vibration and noise control would doom the project.

      6. Amtrak is fine at King Street Station which was just renovated and there’s no need for a tunnel to put Sounder North in, because this sliver of real estate in a prime urban location right next to the BNSF tracks could host a siding (maybe 2 tracks) and platform just north of the existing RR tunnel entrance. There’s an existing ped overcrossing and it would be easily connected underground to the new and existing Link tunnels. It also happens to be very close to the most popular attractions in the PNW (which suburbanites and visitors from out of town staying in the suburbs want to get to): 47.610659, -122.345760

        Half of Sounder North’s walkshed is not in the water, it’s on the other side of a ferry ride and along transit connections in Kitsap and Island county that provide riders. Sounder North has several problems with service design and a few missing capital projects. Having a single seat bus ride to and from stations during the midday would attract more riders making half day trips. CT routes 416 and 417 could add a few trips to perform that function, maybe in $ partnership with ST, IT, KT, cities & WSF. A station on the north end of downtown would make travel time competitive for more workers and attract more trips coming from SnoCo. Reopening the west Everett station would serve another market that is growing with new residential. Everett Station is right next to the freeway so, great for people coming from the North and East, but the west Everett stop would have a local market where it would be competitive with a walk or bus to transfer and slog down I-5.

        Going to the station in Edmonds or Mukilteo is out of the way, but people do it. What’s up with Ballard, or Interbay? People are willing to tax themselves billions of dollars to get a train there, but they won’t spend a few $ to put in a platform for the four commute trips a day that currently pass them by. Really? why? Getting from SnoCo to Ballard/Fremont/QA is bad. We could easily make it better. Pick a spot and build a platform. That’s it. maybe here: 47.610659, -122.345760 or here: 47.610659, -122.345760. I’m not saying instead of the ST3 Link investments, but as small investments over time like ST has been doing along the line since it opened. I like the Link tunnel concept that avoids Interbay for denser spots. Consolation = Sounder North! and a good connection to Rapid Ride too.
        I’ll save discussion on through-routing to get bi-directional service and more destinations for a post to page 2, maybe. Also combining Cascades/Sounder possibly WSFerry under one WSDOT office for a more coordinated, tiered regional rail approach. That could free some of ST’s tax authority for other priorities. Another post, perhaps.
        Last note, I often hear that oil trains are going to increase in number and reduce track availability for passenger service. This is the opinion of industry consultants and market analysts that get paid way too much to draw a line from 2 points. With every assumption about the future, we should all start asking ourselves: Is this what will happen if we are successful at ending our contribution to climate change, because we are going to be. The number of oil trains and coal trains in 2040 will be lower than it is today. I have no clue what the volume of other freight shipments will be, but oil and coal will be less by then.

      7. I like that spot for a station, too, but I don’t think there’s room for additional tracks. For the number of Sounder North trains, it’s not worth the cost and complexity. And anyway, why go into a siding? Are you going to sit there while a freight passes going your direction? That’s not a good idea.

        Nope; just stop on the running track for two minutes and scoot on out.

      8. Glenn,

        The tunnel structure has been taking that beating from the heavy trains for 100 years. That Cascadia illustration assumes that the lowest level IS the BNSF tunnel with station platforms mined out alongside it and tile plastered around.

        And of course as we all noted, it’s a diesel smog hell in there. There’s no way it will ever come to pass.

      9. Eric,

        Only by the wildest warping of the meaning of the word “walkshed” can you count any West Sound riders. Even the ones who walk from downtown Kingston to the ferry are riding another transit vehicle to Sounder. That’s not “walkshed” by any common definition.

      10. @GUY % Anandakos

        Stop looking at the Cascadia picture as the end all be all of this discussion. That was an example photo to show that a similar concept has been floated before.

        The last paragraph of the article is entirely about SEPARATING the passenger trains from the ever more dangerous freight trains by placing the passenger trains in the WSTT project (lower level as implied by the Cascadia image) and leaving the freight within the BNSF tunnel.

        Pertaining to the exhaust, I want to let you in on a little secret.

        VENTILATION! Like in just about every other tunnel! And every garage & building! We’ve been doing it for awhile, we have the technology! Rig the fans up with Variable Frequency Drives’s coupled with CO and NOx Sensors for optimal fresh air. For best practice, install the fans in series throughout the tunnel in a Full-Transverse arrangement to simultaneously supply fresh outside air and exhaust the fumes.

        For Example, if the tunnel were 26′ Diameter and 2.7 miles long with a 6 Air Change per Hour rate as defined by industry leading Greenheck for tunnels, this would yield an Outdoor air rate of 757,000 CFM. It would take only 4 Greenheck VAD-72’s to handle that flowrate. Four fans can handle what you all proclaim to be the end of the world!

      11. Sorry, “that’s not “walkshed” for the Sounder by any common definition.” It is, of course, walkshed for the ferry.

        If you count as “walkshed” any stop on a connecting service to which any person can walk to board, then nearly everywhere there is transit service, other that Park’N’Ride lots, is “walkshed” for the final vehicle ridden. That’s not the common use of the term.

      12. Andy,

        You’ve clearly never ridden a freight train through a long tunnel. I have, the Moffatt on the then D&RGW, fortunately downhill toward Denver. It was a diesel smog hell in there even though once he got the tail of the train into the bore, the engineer throttled back and basically coasted through it with the dynamics engaged. It got REALLY HOT! too, but that wouldn’t be an issue here. The train I had hopped had been in a siding at Winter Park and the tunnel was filled with the smog from the uphill train for which we were waiting grinding through at ten or fifteen miles an hour. That was the source of most of the smoke.

        Another test; ride the Builder through the Cascade Tunnel or the one west of Whitefish in Montana. The Cascade has fans, but your eyes will still sting and you’ll need to sneeze a few times. Railroad locomotives — especially multi-unit lashups — are concentrated point sources, not a generalized series of small sources like automobiles.

        They leave a presence as they pass, though they’re MUCH better than they were in the 1970’s when I took my ride.

        Now the single locomotive on a Sounder train isn’t going to be nearly as obnoxious as three units tugging a coal train with a separately controlled pusher at the end to keep things tight. Even then, you’d be best to use dual-mode locomotives running juice through the lower level of your tunnel.

        I agreed that this made some sense, but I honestly just cannot see the value of spending more than twice as much on the WSTT to run the relatively few trains that Sounder will ever operate to Westlake, and presumably for South Sounder, to some terminal in Interbay, because they won’t be able to “terminate” under Westlake, THAT’s for certain.

        We don’t own the tracks on which Sounder operates (well, except we’d own the trackage in the tunnel of course), Warren Buffet is never going to sell them, and he can spend more to “convince” Congress not to mandate sale than King County can in order to urge them to do so. So, every round trip added will be $40 or $50 million dollars for a “slot”, even assuming that mid-day slots are even for sale.

        Add that to the extra billion or two — and the locally-demonstrated unreliability of large TBM’s — and you have a project that looks likely to fail.

      13. Freight trains also commonly carry tank cars full of noxious chemicals like ammonia or chlorine–in their full strength industrial forms, not the 3% dilution that we buy at a grocery store. I can’t imagine the FRA ever permitting mixed use operations in a tunnel with freight trains carrying lethal chemicals and passenger trains carrying hundreds of passengers.

      14. Can we read before responding?! Or are you just Trolling?!

        No one is suggesting mixed freight AND passenger within the WSTT project. Once again, SEPARATE the passenger rail into a grander WSTT project and leave the freight within the BNSF tunnel.

        Let me say it again, separate the passenger rail into the lower levels of the WSTT and let the freight trains use ONLY the BNSF tunnel.

        Shall I repeat that one more time?

        Anandakos, really?? You’re going to whine that the freight train you were hobo hopping on didn’t take into account your personal comfort and health?! Oh nooooo, how could they not consider this freeloaders well being?! But I have no idea what standard that tunnel you were in was designed for. Great, it had fans… That tells us nothing about what it was designed for, the capabilities of the ventilation system. From your experience it sounds undersized. That’s why the current codes will have learned from that experience and updated the mandatory ventilation requirements to a number that will suffice.

        Per Amtrak’s GreatAmerica station design guidelines, the NEC minimum platform length is 850′, roughly the same length from Pike St to Olive Way along 4th to put that into scale. I suppose I mentioned Stockholm and San Francisco as examples to prove that such large platforms could be constructed underground, but I guess they are using magic to construct those stations because you are so sure any such undertaking is impossible.

        Bottom line is I would hate to build a simple WSTT and then have the people decide 5 to 20 years later that we would like yet ANOTHER tunnel to accommodate passenger rail but at a much greater expense and difficulty. It just seems prudent to consider this expanded WSTT now while the iron is hot and when such an endeavor could be accomplished. What happens when we build the simple WSTT, and then 5 years into completion, the BNSF tunnel is caught in a fiery inferno that renders it unusable. People will be screaming why didn’t the designers even consider relocating the passenger rail into the WSTT project! Yes this expanded WSTT would be more expensive compared directly to the as-proposed WSTT, but it would be cheaper and easier than if another tunnel was added later, and it’s usefulness far superior to our current system.

      15. I didn’t say you couldn’t have just two tracks with long side platforms through Westlake; Heck, you could even have a long central platform if the two tracks had separate tunnels like the DSTT. You could as long as it’s only used by commuter trains which “run through” at least to Interbay for South Sounder and down to Stadium or so for Sounder North. Or more probably all the way to Tacoma. That would work.

        But you said you want to “terminate” Amtrak at Westlake. “Terminate” as in “stop and layover”. “Terminate” as in “reverse direction”. “Terminate” as in looonnnnnnggg dwell times.

        So you will not “get away” with having just two tracks at Westlake. You’d need an absolute minimum of three and more likely four. Suddenly your “big bore” tunnel — not quite as big as the DBT, but edging that way — becomes a full-fledged cavern with multiple tracks and island platforms and edge platforms and all hoo-hah. Plus of course, the buses and Link trains are upstairs a level having their own issues. Have fun digging that in Seattle’s glacial till while supporting the buildings above. Manhattan can get away with such shenanigans because it’s pretty much a granite monolith.

        I’ve tried to be nice about it, but frankly I think this idea is bonkers. We’re not New York OR San Francisco, and the Swedes take the train all the time, everywhere. Americans don’t, and won’t any time soon. This is not needed; King Street station is close enough to pretty much everywhere in downtown Seattle to be useful and Link takes folks to the farther reaches. The Cal-Train depot is nowhere near the Financial District in San Francisco.

        I understand that the transfer sucks the way you have to go west out the station to go east to Link, but it is what it is. Nobody is going to agree to spend a billion or two to advance South Sounder to Westlake and on to Interbay in its own tunnel. And then another billion or so for all-day “slots”. It is just not going to happen.

        You may actually end up poisoning the well for the WSTT by obsessing about this.

        So give it up.

      16. I misspoke by using the word terminate. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and give feedback. I’ll be sure to be more thorough in my next post so as to avoid the communication breakdown we experienced here.

      17. There’s just no possible way the FRA would go ahead with something like this. A single Sounder BiLevel coach is 85ft long and over 15ft tall. Since you would have to electrify the line underground, either a 3rd rail or overhead wire is required. That wire would have to be at least 18-20ft up, plus another meter above it for proper ceiling suspension. A 3rd rail could be used, but as proved in New York with Amtrak’s dual mode P32AC-DM engines, the capabilities are pretty limited.

        Also, BNSF has no use for electric locomotives. They’re effectively useless for freight transport. The strain on the power grid would be over the top. In addition, the FRA does not allow Light Rail and Heavy Rail to share the same right-of-way, period. Not to mention the grade could easily surpass a 5% slope going up, maybe even more.

        I love your thinking, and if we had a huge budget, plus a huge leap in technology (FRA guidelines are setting us back from Europe and Asia by at least 20, maybe 30 or 40 years of railway development and efficiency) then it might be remotely feasible. Sadly, it just simply cannot be. Engineering cannot solve this, it’s just cursed with impracticality and inefficiency.

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